I’m back! My summer in the woods was fantastic, as always. I will now be writing regularly for the blog yet again. While I am away every summer, I always miss short-season baseball. I’m now presented with a nice, robust sample of number for two full Yankee teams to analyze. These statistics can be useful, but because the two short-season leagues that Yankee prospects play in are unique in many different ways, they need to be approached with some caution.
Let’s take Mason Williams, for example. Williams was no-doubt the Yankees breakout prospect this season. He hit .351/.399/.478 with 13% strikeout rate and 7% walk rate for Staten Island at the age of 19. His numbers hold up even better when you look at his competition – the average player in the New York-Penn League was 21.1 years old, hit .250/.329/.355, struck out in 19% of plate appearances, and walked in 9% of plate appearances.
However, the New York-Penn League can be a little funky sometimes. Most of the players are recent college draftees and are just learning how to hit with a wooden bat. Despite his age and relative inexperience, Williams went into the season with 9 months of professional coaching, including using a wooden bat, erasing much of the age advantage his peers enjoyed. The New York Penn League also tends to have very poor overall defense, resulting in a lot of extra balls in play becoming base hits. He enjoyed a .412 BABIP this season. Now, I’m not someone who is going to say that every player should regress down to a .310 BABIP, but .412 is very lucky. A guy like Mason Williams could probably maintain a .340-.350 BABIP through the minor leagues if he is successful.
Bottom line: Williams still had a really good year, at a young age, but also benefited from hitting a lot of batted balls to poor defenses. We’ve seen a lot of strong New York-Penn League performances lead into disappointing full-season hitting over the years, but Williams’ young age and athletic abilities make this one the most exciting that I can remember.
Dante Bichette is a much different kind of story. He hit a surprising .342/.446/.505 at the age of 18 with a strikeout rate of 17% and a phenomenal walk rate of 12.5%. The average GCL hitter was 20 years old, hitting .248/.327/.356 with a 19% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk rate. He clearly outpaced his competition, showed a mature approach to the plat,e and had a tremendous amount of success. Like Williams, Dante took advantage of porous short-season defense (GCL defenses give up an average of 0.8 unearned runs every game, compared with 0.39 in the AL) with a .410 BABIP.
Although he clearly put up a better batting line, I would be slightly less impressed by Bichette’s GCL performance than Williams’ New York-Penn League performance. Bichette was drafted after years of working out with his MLB-father and professional coaches. He brought an already-advanced approach to the plate to the GCL, and it clearly showed against his competition. The average GCL player is very raw, being attended by very few coaches (Many GCL teams still lack pitching or hitting coaches), and is just getting his feet wet in professional baseball. He had an unnatural advantage over his competition, one which will fade as he moves up the minor leagues. This does not mean that Bichette will fail going forward, or that his performance was not impressive, but rather that he needs a handicap. The walks are very impressive, but we’ll see if they stick around as Bichette faces tougher competition.
These guys are just examples. The Yankees had plenty of intriguing players in short-season ball this year – Tyler Austin, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Ravel Santana, Evan Rutckyj – with decent enough sample sizes to make a judgment about. When you consider their experience levels, coaching, and the experience of their competition, you get a larger picture.
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